Let us end our Celebrate Deaf Humanity campaign this year with a tribute to George William Veditz (1861-1937) who made a gigantic impact in the course of American Deaf History as an Activist & Writer.
Mr. Veditz is well known today for his role as an ardent defender of our right to sign during his time as president of the National Association of the Deaf and as one of first American Sign Language filmmakers in his quest to preserve sign language for future generations. He is especially famous for his quote that still resonates deeply with Deaf people today:
"As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs… It is my hope that we will all love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to deaf people." G. Veditz, 1913
Mr. Veditz was born as a second-generation German immigrant and was developing fluency in both spoken English and German when he became Deaf at age 8. He enrolled at the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) when he was 14 and worked for the school’s principal as his private secretary and bookkeeper.
Since he could not afford to finance his education at Gallaudet University (formerly known as the National Deaf-Mute College during his time), he stayed at MSD for a couple of years working as a foreman of their printing office. He finally went to Gallaudet and graduated with a degree in Education and was valedictorian of his class. He then simultaneously went back to work at MSD as a teacher, while attaining a master’s degree in Education from Gallaudet. He accepted an invitation to teach at the Colorado School for the Deaf, a position he stayed at for the next 17 years.
While in Colorado, he founded the Maryland School for the Deaf Alumni Association, Gallaudet University Alumni Association, and the Colorado Association for the Deaf. He also played chess, competing against the best in the world. All this likely built the fame and clout that helped him become the 7th president of NAD where he used this position to address three major concerns that bothered him the most 1) the growing repression of sign language among schools, 2) job discrimination, and 3) the overall treatment of Deaf people as second-class citizens. He used his impressive skills as a writer to reach out to a wide audience through various publications (many articles are currently preserved in the Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives).
Mr. Veditz also wrote letters to President Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft for assistance in repealing the ban on Deaf people applying for civil service jobs. And, as importantly, he worked closely with a NAD committee to produce some of the earliest films that recorded sign language and ensured that one specific film, called the Preservation of Sign Language, would be inducted in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
The efforts of Mr. Veditz represent the action of a Deaf Hero, who fought tirelessly with his mind and heart to save American Sign Language and Deaf Culture from the dark reaches of forces that sought to eradicate Deaf Humanity. Never forget, and always take the time to celebrate our Deaf Trailblazers who remind us that we are whole just as we are.